Interview with Salah Abdel Shafi
Three questions to Salah Abdel Shafi, Palestinian Economic Advisor to the World Bank.
You run a Palestinian consulting firm that works with the World Bank on the Gaza reconstruction projects. What is the climate in Gaza as the Israeli presence there is ending?
Obviously, there is a widespread feeling of satisfaction and hope, even if there is also some trepidation. Many issues are unresolved, beginning with the important issues of the circulation of goods and persons—although there has been some progress. There are also unanswered questions concerning the ability of the Palestinian Authority to take charge of the area after the departure of the settlers. It has to be said that the judgment of Palestinian Gazans reposes on events since 1994 [when Yassir Arafat returned from exile and the Palestinian Authority was created] and the overall performance is not glorious—and that’s the least one could say.
What must be done to change the climate?
Results! And quick! The problem is that the economic situation in Gaza is so degraded after five years of Intifada that unemployment and poverty are such that one cannot reasonably expect structural improvements—even if everything goes off without a hitch—for at least two years.
But people can’t wait that long. To counter this, psychological “triggers” could be put in place to give the Palestinians patience, provided they see real change with their own eyes.
I don’t think that the Palestinian Authority will take any initiative unless it gets the green light from Israel on the reopening of the airport or the construction of a seaport.
During the Oslo years, we saw how the Israelis became masters of the details.
We can foresee that once the evacuation is completed, the Palestinian Authority will be worn down by having to negotiate the smallest detail with them.
How do you create these “triggers?”
In 1994, the Authority launched a campaign to remove the graffiti left over from the first Intifada so that the town could be painted white. People joked that Gaza would become Gazablanca! Well, that’s one way. But, truth be told, the problem is that the inefficiency, the corruption and the foot-dragging of the Palestinian Authority are not completely its fault. Donor countries still have not released the considerable aid which they promised during the G8 summit. These funds could have been used already. What about starting up a big program of public works to upgrade Gaza’s main highway, the Saladin Road, which traverses the Gaza Strip from north to south? That would be a tremendously positive step! But the money isn’t coming! The donor countries are still in wait-and-see mode, which proves that there agenda is political and diplomatic and not economic.